Marvel’s “Phase 2” is underway with Iron Man 3 and Thor 2 in production and set for release next year, kicking off a slate of movies leading up to The Avengers 2 in 2015. Most of these are sequels to the Phase 1 movies, but they will be introducing new heroes to the roster in Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, which, according to Deadline, is closing in on casting its lead, Peter Quill/Star-Lord. I have yet to figure out how to explain Guardians in a way that doesn’t sound completely insane, so for now, let’s just talk about who is going to get the rocket launcher of a career boost these Marvel movies have become. The short list consists of Joel Edgerton, Jack Huston, Lee Pace, Eddie Redmayne and Jim Sturgess, with other sources including James Marsden and Aussie actor Sullivan Stapleton on the list, too.

As odd a group of people as that is, it’s a pretty typical list for Marvel. They like to catch actors on the rise and they like people with repertory backgrounds, which is most everyone on this list (Huston is the odd man out on that score). Edgerton sticks out for being the oldest but Sturgess is probably the most bizarre name among them. Huston is an intriguing inclusion—he hasn’t bowled me over in anything to date, but his pedigree cannot be denied. Redmayne is actually in the hunt for another Marvel role, that of Harry Osborne in the Spider-Man Redux movies, so he clearly wants a franchise job. It’s good strategy—landing a franchise gig has become vital to an actor’s career. It increasingly feels like they can’t make the leap to legitimate stardom without at least one under their belt.

Which brings us to Lee Pace (best known for Pushing Daisies), who is my odds-on favorite for a Marvel gig. He fits the Marvel mold perfectly—theater trained, solid industry reputation, ready to break out, and he’s been steadily moving up the franchise ranks with supporting roles in Breaking Dawn and The Hobbit (though he won’t be seen until next year’s installment), as well as a flashy turn as crazy racist Fernando Wood in Lincoln. He’s also got a little bit of that Chris Evans thing of “was supposed to break out years ago and didn’t”, which I actually prefer. It knocks most of the entitlement out of them when they don’t get everything they want when they’re told to expect it. (Not that Pace’s ego is that out of control. He’s like a 3.4 on the Seismic Scale of Actor Egos.) Pace is so on the cusp he’s practically falling off the edge.

The thing is, I got wind of Marvel sniffing around Pace a few weeks ago, but it was in connection with Ant-Man, not Guardians. And Marvel, well, they like to cast out of a pool, meaning everyone reads for the same part but then they’ll pick heroes, sidekicks and villains out of the same group. I wonder if that would stretch so far as to cast two different projects from one batch, too. That might account for Sturgess, who fits the character description for Ant-Man (basically, awkward nerdy scientist) more than he does for Guardians (dashing space pilot). Handicapping this pool, I’d say Edgerton for the villain, with the possibility of Sturgess picking up a sidekick/scientist role, and Lee Pace for the win.

Attached - Lee Pace at the Breaking Dawn premiere